pasta, generic name for thin pieces of hardened, unleavened dough that are molded into various shapes and boiled, not baked. Pasta is commonly associated with Italian cuisine, though similar wheat flour and rice flour pastas, usually called noodles, have been known in Asia for a long time (remains of millet flour noodles dating to c.2000 B.C. have been found in China). Pasta is believed to have been introduced into Europe during the Mongol invasions in the 13th cent. The basic ingredient of Italian-style pasta is semolina, a durum wheat flour, which is moistened with water, kneaded to a smooth dough, and rolled out and cut or formed into various shapes, such as ribbons, tubes, or disks; they may be twisted or ribbed. Thin strands are known as spaghetti (Italian for "little strings") and very thin as vermicelli ("little worms"). Pasta may contain eggs as well as such flavoring and coloring agents as tomatoes, spinach, and squid ink. In Asia, noodles are a common staple, as in Japan's soba (buckwheat noodles served with a soy dipping sauce), Korea's chilled beef and noodle soup, and China's lo mein (stir-fried wheat noodles paired with a variety of other ingredients) and chow fun (rice noodles). Many other countries have created their own pasta dishes, such as sweet noodle kugel (a Middle-European Jewish dish). Fresh pasta is also served as stuffed dumplings in many countries; the Polish pierogi, kin to Russian piroshki, are filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables. The Chinese serve potstickers, wontons, and many other types of dumplings, and the Italians serve cheese- or meat-stuffed ravioli, tortellini, and other types.
See M. L. and J. D. Scott: The Complete Pasta Book (1988); S. Serventi and F. Sabban, Pasta: The Story of a Universal Food (tr. 2003).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.